Advancement in Tyre Technology in India since the beginning



Introduction

Due to the vast availability of raw materials (natural rubber) and ultramodern production facilities, India has now emerged as the world's most competitive tyre markets. With the ever-growing insistence to curb emission levels, enhance the fuel efficiency and reduce the weight of vehicles, the Indian tyre industry is coming up with new trends in manufacturing processes to meet the varying market dynamics and cater to the latest demands of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM). Over the next few years, huge amounts of investments are expected in this industry with a major proportion directed towards the expansion of radial tyre capacity in heavy vehicles.

India is known to be an innovation hub which implements new technologies and products, and the tyre industry is no exception. The idea of 'green tyres' is now widely accepted in India and the demand for 'green tyres' is expected to soon outperform the overall tyre demand in the country. In the modernization phase, largely driven by demand and supply conditions, the tyre makers in India are gearing up to intensify their role. Firms have immense pressure to develop products which have minimal friction and offers higher fuel efficiency.



The Indian Tyre Industry

In 1926, Dunlop Rubber Ltd. became the first firm in India to set up a tyre company in West Bengal following which Madras Rubber Factory Ltd. entered the market in 1946 and ventured into manufacturing of rubber in 1952. Since then, the Indian tyre market as shown in Fig. 1 has grown rapidly, by providing direct and indirect employment to nearly 1 million people including dealers, growers of natural rubber, people working in raw material domain etc.

In 2019, the Indian tyre market had a consumption volume of 185 million. India is the fourth largest market for tyres in the world after China, Europe and the United States. The Indian tyre market consists of a wide variety of consumer base which uses all types of vehicles like cars, buses, military vehicles etc. The demand of tyres is fulfilled by OEMs and replacement market with the latter dominating the tyre market for most sales. Demand for replacement market is linked to usage patterns and replacement cycles while the OEM market is driven by new automobile sales trends. At present this market is quite concentrated in India with top 10 firms accounting for over 80% of sales. MRF, Apollo Tyres and JK Tyres are currently the top players in this market.

During the period 2019-2023, Indian tyre industry expects a 7-9 per cent growth with a capital expenditure of around Rs. 20,000 crores as noted by the rating agency ICRA. In May 2020, JK Tyres and Industries to expand its business in the United States had set up a new entity named Western Tires INC. Some notable trends in this domain include the development of tyre damage detecting system on a real-time basis by Bridgestone and Microsoft in July 2020, finer tolerances in manufacturing processes, inclusion of more radials to consume less fuel, focus on better traction which increases fuel efficiency etc.

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Raw Material

The tyre is made via an assembly of various components that are built upon a drum and cured in a press under heat and pressure. In tyre industry raw material incurs the largest cost head accounting for about 75- 80 per cent of the total. For the manufacturing of tyres, major raw materials used are natural rubber, polybutadiene rubber, styrene-butadiene rubber and nylon tyre cord fabric.

Rubber, nylon cord fabric and carbon black constitute 80-85 per cent of the raw material cost of the industry. Any change in the prices of these materials has a significant impact on the overall industry's profitability. Price of rubber is prone to fluctuations ranging around 25-30 per cent. The reasons for such a high surge in the price of rubber in the domestic market is due to the demand-supply gap in production and consumption of rubber in India.

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New Technologies

The tyres affect everything right from road safety to driving technology and hence the development of new tyre technology is of immense importance which will redefine the way we drive. History has shown us the development of tyre pressure monitoring systems and electricity has been increasingly bonded with modern tyre manufacturing. Hence, the usage of electrical components in tyres is an advancement in this field.

Smart Tyres - In 2019, TREEL sensors were introduced in India's first 'Smart Tyre' technology which was launched by JK Tyres and Industries Ltd. This technology helps in smart monitoring and maintenance of tyres. This firm has developed a tyre pressure monitoring system which works with the help of sensors and monitors real-time pressure and temperature. The collected data then can be assessed through an app with the help of a mobile phone. This helps in early detection of issues which can be rectified immediately, better life of tyres and reduction in operational expenses.

3D Printed Tyres - Industry giant Michelin has unveiled a concept tyre that uses no air through the use of honeycomb structures that uses 3D printing. This concept is inspired by the natural growth patterns of plants, structures of minerals and corals. The best part of this concept is that the tyres can communicate with the vehicle and repair the treads when needed. These tyres can be recycled completely after its life ends. This concept would give a new dimension to mobility sector.

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Run-Flat Tyres - This concept helps tyres to run even when punctured. Many companies have adopted this technology as it increases road safety and vehicle durability simultaneously decreasing fuel consumption. Conventional tyres get destroyed and get adversely affected when punctured.


Challenges

Large imports from China and slowdown in the Chinese economy resulted in dumping off their manufacturer's products in the Indian market thereby affecting the domestic industry. The inverted duty structure for the tyre industry is another challenge that has added pressure to the players. An increase in customs duty on tyres would keep it at par with the duty attracted by natural rubber, thereby helping the domestic industry to be competitive. Also, the domestic industry has been affected by trade agreements, as concessions are provided on customs duty of finished tyres rather than natural rubber which increases the cost of tyres in the domestic market. Lack of knowledge about replacement markets which leads to people only looking out for options from those whom they trust on a personal basis possess another challenge.

By - Shivang Jitendra Khare

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